Still dying for a laugh

Murdered to Death

Lichfield Garrick

****

IT is always interesting to see how a play evolves and progresses during a run.

There are some huge fans who see Les Mis or The Sound of Music a dozen times on a run but for most people they see a production just once and to them it is like a film or a DVD recorded on their mind's hard drive.

So as far as they are concerned each performance is going to be exactly the same give or take the rustle of the odd bag of sweets opened as soon as the lights dim.

Does anyone know why that happens by the way? Is it like Pavlov's dogs? Theatre seat, lights dim, open and unwrap noisiest sweets you can find. And while we are at it opening sweets remarkably slowly in a quiet bit doesn't make it any quieter it just lengthens the irritation for everyone else.

But I digress.

Norman Pace as Pratt with the soon to be the late Dorothy played by Chloe Newsome

Plays change as a run goes on. Actors see new opportunities and possibilities. Scenes that might have clunked a little become smooth running with a bit of nudging here and there and as Roland Oliver said after a performance of Murdered to Death at Lichfield Garrick: “Audiences change plays.”

They help guide and mould a play as it goes along and Murdered to Death has certainly been moulded as it enters its final week of a run that has seen it cross crossing the country for most of the summer.

I last saw it at Wolverhampton Grand in July when it was a highly entertaining production. Now, in its final week, it has matured. It is still the same mix of murder and farce but is even funnier with the cast seemingly now wearing their characters like old favourite clothes, warm and comfortable,  and they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Oliver, by the way, is the bumbling, plus-fours, ready for a snifter retired Colonel Craddock, old boy, who arrives with his wife Margaret (Sandra Dickinson) at Bagshot House for the weekend along with Pierre Marccau (Darren Machin) the dodgy French painter and art dealer - think of a camp Captain Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo and the equally dodgy Elizabeth Hartley-Trumpington (Michelle Hardwick).

They are the guests of Mildred (Erin Geraghty) and her niece Dorothy (Chloe Newsome) who live at Bagshot with their alcoholic butler Bunting (Victor Spinetti).

KISS OF DEATH

When amateur sleuth Miss Joan Maple (Elizabeth Williams) arrives then we all know murder is not far behind - she really is the kiss of death. Mildred is the first to go which brings in the law in the shape of Constable Thompson or Thompkins or whoever (Christopher Elderwood) and Acting Inspector Pratt (Norman Pace).

Pratt by name and nature manages to shoot his constable in the foot - both feet eventually - and is even in the room when Dorothy meets her end - and he still gets the wrong people for the murders.

Peter Gordon set out to create an Agatha Christie spoof, a whodunit with guffaws,  and in that he succeeds with the help of a cast who have now found just about every nuance for laughs and effect from the script and the excellent set.

It is hard to single anyone out in what is a real team effort  with no weak links. Comedian turned actor Norman Pace shows the timing needed for the idiotic Pratt and you have to applaud the beautifully balanced bumbling of Victor Spinetti as the half-cut Bunting.

Michelle Hardwick, from Leeds incidentally, and Machin are believable as the villains keeping their accents - two each - going without falter but everywhere you look there is a splendid performance of a production at ease with itself.

This is the last week so I would suspect what is already a funny show may well become even funnier as the run rides off into the sunset so I would not bank on an early finish on Saturday night. To 16-10-10.

Roger Clarke 

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